Vladimir Leninovitch Reflected in Antwerp

I was going to write about something else (to be precise, I was going to write about Dali; I wrote already about Magritte, and then about Miro, and having Delvaux already covered I start dreaming about ‘reflecting’ an entire movement of surrealism after one final posting about Dali).

But, as often happens, I got distracted – in this case, by our trip to Antwerp. It’s a lovely city, in a sense, a very surreal one, too, but always a pleasure to stroll, and I regularly discover interesting ‘art mirrors’ there (the last one was the mirrors of Juan de Flandes). This time again, mirrors were omnipresent, like mushrooms in a forest after a good rain.

So, Dali got abandoned, hopefully not for long, and instead I have a couple of fresh stories, which I will try to tell in a true blogging style, WYSIWYB(log).

This particular installation caught us in the De Zwarte Panter gallery; it’s located pretty centrally, and yet we’ve been missing it all these years before. It’s a really lovely place, the gallery occupies a few old buildings (including a former chapel (?) or a small church), yet it presents pretty provocative contemporary art, that creates a nice resonance between the content and the ‘frame’.

I personally was interested in the modern remakes of Hieronymos Bosch (the next posting will be about those), and wouldn’t even notice this Lenin series myself – but fortunately I was not alone, and der gute Mensch pointed me to the cellar where we found the works of the Belgian artist Raynond Minnen.

I don’t know exactly what made him interested in the figure of Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov – but no matter why, he somehow decided to revisit it:

In this posting I will show only the parts employing mirrors (and I found only two of those). The rest can be found here, and I would recommend to have at these works too, before reading further, because you will feel better the general nature of this kind of art.

The photo of the installation ‘Lenin looks in the Mirror, placed into His Very Head’ shown above is from the gallery website;  my own didn’t turn so well, because it was quite dark in this basement. Anyway, this is version of the events:

But I also have another, alternative view of the terrain:

I can’t say that what we saw is a super-original and/or deeply insightful art; it follows a long tradition of pop-art, including pop-criticism of (pop)ideology. But it’s funny enough to produce a paper or two in the local art-press.  Does the mirror adds any depth and originality?  And what does it do here anyway?

The use of real mirrors in art (instead of painting them, for instance) is at least a century old tradition in art (most likely, more, if we extend it to non-European art). Same thing is true for the ‘dolls’ – even if talk about plastic ones, their use in pop-art in goes back to the time of plastic invention (and we extend the range of materials, this again would go to the very beginning of art (and culture).

The fact that the whole installation is so surreal (both form-factor-ally and also thematically, so to speak) makes it interesting, but all these historical roots are not really the point: play it well, and it will interesting art, no matter that somebody played it before.

The fact that it is a political satire (of some sort) AND it uses mirrors, presents a curious case, of course, for this particular blog; I wonder how far back I could track the use of mirrors in history? In my memory, Belle Gabrielle was a political satire (of some sort) and the painting did include a mirror, but I am not sure about its specific role in a satirical part. Did ancient Romans use bronze mirrors in their satirical statues of their tyrans (if there were any, of course? That would be nice to find.

I consider it relatively ‘weak art’, enough for one gag, but not much more; but there are funny overtones , and it does use a mirror… so let it be here.

The second installation is more radical and more macabre; it’s also not that easy to show – it’s a multi-component composition, and any one view does not capture it well. It may be very broadly describes as ‘Plastic Skeleton of Lenin Laying in Coffin’ (or Mausoleum?), or something like that. By the way, all these titles are my own invention, originally all these composition didn’t have any names.

There is a mirror here, too, and it’s aimed to reflect a certain part of the composition (let’s call it the Blue Foot). I thought I took a close-up of this mirror, but back at home discovered that I didn’t. So, basically I have only one more version of the scene:

I have few more close-ups, from different angles – but all without mirrors (this next one shows only a faction of the mirror):

My overall conclusion is that it’s, well, not the most striking art project I’ve ever seen, but… but let the mummy mummify in a hundred different ways, and why not with the mirrors, too?

Now, how it all relates to my Mirror of Future? What is to ‘futuristic’ here? Me, who I guess is slightly more familiar that the artist from Antwerp with the original context of the events and figures, depicted in this art, could perhaps draw a certain time-line, with the penalties to be imposed for such project in the USSR. In the 1930s it would be death sentence, perhaps; replaced by 25 years in GULAG by the 1950s, and then a short detention (15 days for hooliganism?) in the 1970s? In the end of the 1980s one would get a quarrel with a few yelling “Soviet veterans”, and in a few years later, art award and hefty check from one of the Western galleries willing to acquire a piece (but only provided it’s made in Russia). By now it looks terribly outdated, touching nothing and no one. How it will be perceived in, say 50 years from now? 

Would anybody be intrigued by the plastic head of Napoleon with an in-built mirror and with other mini-Napoleon looking at it? What about Freud’s head? Putin’s head? Obama’s head? Obama’s head which Putin looks into? And if the opposite? Žižek looking into Lenin’s head? Will anyone ever remember these names of in 200 years?

A simulacrum of a simulacrum is a simulacrum of a simulacrum is a simulacrum of a simulacrum.


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